It is important for adults to realize that young children do not think logically in the same way that adults think. The logic of young children is based on their perceptions. For instance, a three year old will always choose to have a nickel over a dime because the nickel is larger and therefore, must be worth more. A five year old will be thrilled when you cut his piece of cake in two, because now he has two pieces of cake and is getting extra dessert! His three year old sister will throw a temper tantrum if she still only has one piece of cake, because you clearly like her brother more– why ELSE would you give the brother TWO pieces and her only one?! This is the logic of a young child. Knowing this can help you avoid many behavior problems.
When I read my books to young children, I am amused when I ask them how many of them have ever been yelled at. Usually, a few children will raise their hands while the rest of them are reluctantly looking around, waiting to see who might raise their hand. After a few hands go up, more and more hands are raised until all hands are up. Some of the children are looking around the room with complete surprise on their faces. The child with the "reputation" who believes he or she is the only "bad" kid, the only one to ever get in trouble cannot believe that EVERY child in the room gets yelled at! This is such a revelation to young children- everyone does something wrong every once in a while. "I am not the only child to get in trouble," is such a powerful message because "if everyone else gets in trouble, maybe I am not such a bad boy or girl like I thought I was!"
We must be very careful to understand that when a young child begins to perceive him or herself as a "bad" kid, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I am saddened to see how many young children are being labeled so early in life these days. We can guide them into understanding that everyone makes choices and sometimes those end up being poor choices. Adults need to help the child separate the behavior from the child's character. I am disheartened when I hear a parent or teacher tell me that a child is "bad." The child's behavior may be undesirable, but the child should not be labeled as "bad."
I have found that young children who behave in unacceptable ways are often expressing fears that they cannot articulate. One day when my three year old son had a pediatrician appointment, he began throwing a massive temper tantrum as we walked into the office. I was very flustered and tried to calm him, ("Stop that this minute"). I was focused on his kicking and screaming and my embarrassment, until another adult told me that what he was screaming was that he did not want his chest cut open! His "bad behavior" was nothing more than his sheer terror at thinking that he was going to have the same operation that his brother had! I could have punished the behavior or calmed him by reassuring him that he would not have his chest cut opened. Always look for the fear behind the behavior. Our young children are viewing so much violence on television today that the fears they are developing are incredible.
As a young child I also exhibited "bad behavior." One day my mother took a phone call that informed her my aunt "lost the baby." I wanted to go help find it. I was downright furious with my mother when she would not leave the house with me and help search for that baby! The baby was never found! What was wrong with these cruel people?! I never wanted to be alone with that aunt anymore! If she could lose her own baby, what prayer did I have of being safe? No one ever knew why I shunned my favorite aunt after that tragic time. It wasn't until I was a teenager that the situation arose again, in another relative's life, that I finally revisited that time when I was three and understood that I had been so angry all those years because of an early childhood misperception!
Food for thought: How many negative feelings are YOU still carrying around with you from your early childhood?
As parents and teachers, it is desirable to have high expectations for our children. Often, when we see a child is not living up to our expectations and receiving the grades we expect of them, it is understandable that we would let them know that we believe they could do better. But, what if that WAS the best the child could do? What if they really struggled to get that C? In Annie Mouse Meets her Guardian Angel, we see a page where Mommy Mouse is looking at Annie's report card and saying, "There's no excuse for a B." In Mommy's mind, she may be thinking that she is letting Annie know that she believes Annie is very bright and can get straight A's. In Annie's mind, she is thinking that her Mommy doesn't think she is good enough. As a classroom teacher for many years, I have seen this scenario play out many times. Not one "Mommy" (or Daddy, grandma, etc.) ever intended their reaction to be viewed as anything other than trying to inspire the child to do better. Yet, over and over, I heard the hurt voices of the children, who were doing their best, cry that they could never live up to the parents' expectations of them- they saw themselves as failures. It's a lose-lose situation for everyone. A better option than berating the grade after the fact, is to ask the child the following questions:
· Was this the best that you could do?
· Are you happy with your effort?
What grade would you like to get and what can I do to help you achieve that goal? (Telling a child, "you could do better" does not tell them HOW he/she could do better!)
Engage the child in a discussion and determine what the child's stumbling blocks are. Remember that even a child who has been labeled as "gifted" will often have an area of weakness. It is particularly difficult for a young child who sets high expectations for him or herself to know how to ask for help and guidance.
Cleaning up their Rooms/Play Areas
I am always amused when I read Annie Mouse Meets her Guardian Angel to a group of young children. I ask them how many of them have ever been told that they had not cleaned up the "right way." Every hand goes up. I then engage them in a discussion about what happens. The children share stories of shoving everything under the bed, stuffing things in closets so that everything falls out when an adult opens it, etc. They all can relate to Annie showing off her clean room and then pouting when Mommy doesn't think it's clean. Of course, the child won't want to admit they didn't do the job according to expectations and will often accuse the adult of being unfair. It is normal for children to see what they could get away with. It's also normal for a child to think a parent is being "mean" when the parent holds the child to a set standard. When asking a young child to be responsible for clean up, be sure to set reasonable expectations for the child's age and hold the child to them. Try not to fall into the "guilt-trap" when the child pouts and cries and says, "YOU'RE MEAN!" Remember that the child is testing you and you will lose your credibility if you decide to do the clean up yourself because it is easier and avoids stress and tension. Today, so many parents have limited time to spend with their young children, that it is natural to want to have all of the time stress-free and it is like a knife to the heart to hear a child say you are mean. Stay strong! They'll get over it and respect you for it. Remember to stay objective and, rather than yelling at the child, ask in a conversational tone, "Is this done the way it was supposed to have been done?" or "Are you proud of the job you have done here." You'll be surprised at how readily they will admit if they know they haven't done a good job. You will be teaching them responsibility. However, do not expect a three year old to do chores according to an adult standard!
Remember to also use toy clean up times as teachable moments. Stay with the child and count the items as they are being put away. Discuss finding pairs of shoes or socks and the attributes that they share. Teach them to identify colors, shapes or sizes by having them find all objects with the same attribute and putting only those things away. i,e: Ask them to find all of the "red" blocks/legos/doll clothes/dishes, etc. This is a great way to teach responsibility as well as build language skills. Clean-up time can be wonderful quality time with your child! Sure, you could clean those things up after the child is in bed, but you'll be missing out on a great teachable moment!